Indigenous entrepreneur using tech to help Alberta women find work

Click to play video: 'Calgary tech startup helps women find work during pandemic'
Calgary tech startup helps women find work during pandemic
The pandemic combined with Alberta's deep economic struggles have forced many women out of work. But as Heather Yourex-West explains, Virtual Gurus, a small Calgary startup run by Bobbie Racette, is helping connect small companies with workers often overlooked – Mar 30, 2021

After finding herself struggling to find work herself, an Alberta woman launched an online platform that is now helping hundreds of other women earn a living.

Bobbie Racette built her Calgary business thinking often of her mom.

“My mom is an Indigenous woman and (she’s) part of the LGBTQ2 community and raised me with my other mom,” Racette said. “From a young age, I’ve seen prejudice against us as a family. It was a lot of heartbreak for us to deal with.”

Racette first moved to Calgary to pursue job opportunities in oil and gas. For several years, she worked as a production foreman but when the price of oil crashed in 2015, Racette was laid off.

“At that time there were a lot of people in Calgary trying to find work and there were just no opportunities for me.”

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Racette began looking into freelance contract work online.

“I was bidding as low as $2 to $4 an hour on a task and I started realizing, surely there has got to be a better way for this.”

It’s how Racette’s company, Virtual Gurus was born. The startup features an online platform that matches small businesses with contract employees who can provide administrative assistant and other support work remotely.

Click to play video: 'The Future of Work: Freelancing and the gig economy'
The Future of Work: Freelancing and the gig economy

“A lot of people looked at us and said, ‘You know, you’re crazy! This isn’t going to work because essentially you’re sharing an assistant with multiple other businesses.” Racette said. “When the pandemic hit and everyone was in panic mode and pivoting, people realized they actually didn’t need to have a full-time assistant or a marketing assistant and we just started being their back-office support.”

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Virtual Gurus now has more than 400 contractors working as virtual assistants for clients across the country and beyond. Ninety-five per cent of these contractors are women and 65 per cent are people of colour.

Stacey Wells is now working as a contract virtual assistant.

“I have six clients at the moment, so every day is different,” she said.

Well says she found the Virtual Gurus platform after being laid off.

“It had been challenging trying to find work. There were jobs available but in my area, everyone was looking. One posting would get hundreds of applicants.”

Now, Wells says she is able to work full-time, dividing her day between clients from Canada and the U.S.

“A magazine out of Calgary is one of my clients, a client that does consulting and she’s in New Mexico and then I have three clients out in Ontario.”

Click to play video: 'Pivoting during a pandemic'
Pivoting during a pandemic

Last week, Racette secured more than $1.7 million in the company’s second-run of investment funding.  Virtural Gurus has big plans for future growth but Racette says for her, each new hire is still deeply personal.

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“I surprise myself, because I’ll look online and I’ll see all the people we’re providing work for and it brings a tear to  my eye.”

And once again, she thinks about her mom.

Racette says her mom Lorna lives in Regina with her partner. While they normally get together frequently, COVID-19 has kept them apart.

Bobbie Racette of Virtual Gurus says she was inspired by her mom Lorna.
Bobbie Racette of Virtual Gurus says she was inspired by her mom Lorna. Submitted: Bobbie Racette

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